The invisible health challenges of running your own business

Running your own business can be a rewarding experience, offering freedom and flexibility. However, the day-to-day pressures of working for yourself can be daunting

The invisible health challenges of running your own business

Running your own business can be an immensely rewarding – and exciting – experience. Using your expertise to forge a career with no boss or office politics, where you get to choose what to work on, who you want to work with and which hours you want to work, is a dream scenario that millions of people across the UK enjoy. 

However, the actual day-to-day pressure and stress of working for yourself can often feel very challenging. There are long hours involving fiddly business and financial admin to deal with; payments to chase and bills to pay; not to mention the constant stress of trying to maintain a healthy cash flow and keep your business afloat. And that’s before factoring in the wider stress of macro-economic forces such as the cost-of-living crisis and the current political uncertainty in the UK. 

In a recent survey we carried out at FreeAgent, we discovered that these pressures are taking their toll on the small business sector with nearly half (48%) of UK SME owners we polled admitting running their own business has negatively impacted their health. Our survey findings paint a bleak picture, with long working hours and a reluctance to rest for holidays or even illness, combining to have a negative impact on small business owners’ overall physical and mental health.

Long working hours have well and truly become the norm, with nearly a quarter (22.9%) working at least 48 hours per week – including one in 20 (4.7%) working more than 64 hours a week. This suggests a continuation of the trend of overtime work that FreeAgent uncovered last year, where a third (36%) of business owners stated they regularly work in the evenings and two-fifths (41%) often or always work at the weekend. 

The results highlight entrepreneurs’ commitment to their business’s success but a feeling that it’s impossible to completely switch off. A significant number of respondents plan to work during their holidays with 60% of individuals planning on attending to some administrative tasks like responding to emails or managing their accounts while on holiday. What’s more, this overworking trend doesn’t stop at holidays. When it comes to illness, more than three-quarters (77%) said that they have worked through an illness due to feeling they could not take time off.

So what is the impact of all of this on the average small business owner? Well, we found that a fifth (20%) of respondents told us that their mental health has been negatively affected by running their business, while one in 14 (7%) said their physical health had taken a hit. A further 20% said both their mental *and* physical health had been negatively impacted by running their own business. 

It’s a stark picture, although there is also some good news – with two-thirds of SME owners (67%) saying they felt they have a healthy work-life balance. However, it is important to acknowledge that there’s still a need for more support for Britain’s entrepreneurs. And with a General Election campaign currently in full swing, it’s vital that our major political parties commit to supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs in the UK, so they can avoid significant damage to their physical and mental well-being. 

Enhancing initiatives to facilitate sick pay and health insurance accessibility, coupled with fostering awareness and education on mental health, is paramount for the welfare of our entrepreneurial community. I hope that this will be a concern addressed by all parties during the election cycle, and that the incoming Government will be able to help fully support the SME sector in the months and years ahead. 

Emily Coltman
Emily Coltman

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